A Larne passenger lobby group is calling for continued investment in the Larne rail link, despite proposed £15 million DRD funding cuts.
The Larne Line Passenger Group (LLPG) is a voluntary organisation which was set up in 2005 by rail passengers to lobby for the consolidation and growth of the Larne Railway Line.
The group says it is “deeply concerned” at the DRD’s proposed £15 million funding reduction for Translink over 2015/16, equivalent to a 20 per cent cut.
The DRD has been ordered to make savings of £65 million following the recent Stormont budget.
Recently, it was revealed that the DRD’s proposed budget cuts could result in the reduction of train services between Whitehead and Larne.
Chair of the LLPG Elena Aceves-Cully stated: “Even though we do acknowledge that there are opportunities for efficiencies and revenue raising, we are deeply concerned that this reduction in funding will have a severe and chronic effect on public transport to Northern Ireland.
“The LLPG has lobbied Translink over the last nine years to ensure that equal rail services are provided in all railway lines and over the years.
“It has worked closely with Translink, local community and political representatives to achieve the securement and consolidation of the Larne Line.
“Not that long ago, Translink was talking about possible cuts to this line and even station closures if passenger numbers did not increase.
“In the latest passenger figures released to our group, they revealed that in the last year alone the growth in this line (throughout) is of approximately 12 per cent and of approximately 20 per cent in the last two years.
“We feel the future of this line has been consolidated and we are now working along with Translink to promote the use of the line and further increase passenger numbers.”
Mrs Aceves-Cully added that a high level of investment in rail needed to be sustained in order to encourage people to use public transport. She continued: “We believe the potential of this line and all the other lines is still to be fully realised and we do think that capital investment, in terms of park and ride facilities, trains and stations needs to continue at a high rate if the aim of getting more people out of their cars is to be realised.
“The LLPG believes the drastic cuts to Translink’s budget are totally disproportionate and inconsistent not only with DRD’s Strategy on public transport and in particular railways, but also with NI Assembly and even UK commitments to sustainable public transport, C02 reduction, public health, public safety and an integrated society and social cohesion.”
Condemning the “savage cuts”, Ms Aceves Cully urged the parties in the NI Assembly to “rise above tribal politics” to find an alternative solution. She also urged DRD Minister Danny Kennedy to “make an effective case in the Assembly to refute these cuts” and to formulate proposals to make Translink “a more efficient and higher revenue-making organisation.”
In addition to proposed reductions in rail services, the department’s draft budget paper shows that14 towns could have their town bus services withdrawn.
Minister Kennedy has warned of “difficult decisions ahead”.
He previously commented: “DRD is facing cuts of around £65million to its budget for 2015/16 and as a result there could be reductions of some £15 million in the total Departmental funding to Translink.
“A draft budget consultation document for 2015/16 is currently out for public consultation. The impacts of the reduction on my budget have not been agreed at this stage however the financial constraints are so great that there will certainly be very difficult decisions ahead.”
Other proposed cuts involve a reduction in the number of management, administrative and clerical staff.
Overall, proposed job losses would affect a total of 160 staff, reducing the DRD’s paybill by £5.7 million.
Potential fare increases and bus station closures and bus engineering reorganisation linked to service reduction and cessation measures, are also being considered, The public consultation on the DRD’s draft budget closed on December 29.